It had looked like he would fall to convincing loss when he dropped serve in the second set and Wawrinka - whose wait for a first title since May 2017 goes on - had two chances to go a double-break in front.
In an on-court interview broadcast by Amazon Prime, Murray said: "Obviously it means a lot, the last few years have been extremely hard, both me and Stan have had a lot of injury problems the last couple of years".
"It means a lot, " a tearful Murray said afterwards.
"I didn't expect to be in this position at all, and I'm very, very happy".
The two-time Wimbledon champion converted the second and served out, securing victory with an ace, to reach his first semi-final since the French Open in 2017.
"He's had his injury troubles as well the last couple of years and done great to get back to the top of the game". "It was a tough five-set match in the semis and my hip never really recovered from that, so it's cool to be back playing against him in a final".
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"He was being a lot more aggressive at the end of the second set and in the third, but thankfully I managed to get the break right at the end".
Murray continued to dig deep, saving three break points in the ninth game of the set, leaving Wawrinka to serve to stay in it.
Wawrinka would come to rue his missed opportunity in the very next game, with Murray breaking back.
Murray leads Wawrinka 11-8 in head-to-head meetings. "We've played against each other in some big matches in the past in big tournaments", Murray said.
With Wawrinka serving to stay in the match, Murray brought up championship point after nearly two and a half hours and wrapped up his first title since Dubai in 2017 when his opponent strayed wide.
Up next for the 32-year-old is Guido Pella or Ugo Humbert who were in action in the other quarterfinal. "My wife's been a huge support for getting me back on the court and making me fight to keep playing".